Nothing I’ve done has really been singular

Nothing that I am writing or could ever write, about mental health disorders like mania and depression (bipolar) or about addiction and getting clean (and the ongoing recovering from both) could ever be told completely from a first-person singular. My recovery is not just about me, but about my immersion in the lives of others through my words and actions and experiences.

My goal, above all, in writing this book is to promote better mental health from the things I have tried and failed at, and what I’ve succeeded from. As Jamison says, these kind of stories are hard to tell because they are stories that have already been told.

When I decided to write a book about recovery, I worried about all of these possible failures. I was wary of trotting out the tired tropes of the addictive spiral, and wary of the tedious architecture and tawdry self-congratulation of a redemption story: It hurt. It got worse. I got better. Who would care? This is boring! When I told people I was writing a book about addiction and recovery, I often saw their eyes glaze. Oh, that book, they seemed to say, I’ve already read that book. I wanted to tell them that I was writing a book about that glazed look in their eyes, about the way an addiction story can make you think, I’ve heard that story before, before you’ve even heard it. I wanted to tell them I was trying to write a book about the ways addiction is a hard story to tell, because addiction is always a story that has already been told, because it inevitably repeats itself, because it grinds down—ultimately, for everyone—to the same demolished and reductive and recycled core: Desire. Use. Repeat.

– The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath, Leslie Jamison

For me, the dozens of books I’ve read about recovery have most definitely helped me to succeed. Although themes and places and activities were repeated, they never got old. My eyes did not glaze over when someone mentioned to me a book I hadn’t read; when Jamison’s book was recently released, I picked it up that day.

In recovery, I found a community that resisted what I’d always been told about stories—that they had to be unique—suggesting instead that a story was most useful when it wasn’t unique at all, when it understood itself as something that had been lived before and would be lived again. Our stories were valuable because of this redundancy, not despite it. Originality wasn’t the ideal, and beauty wasn’t the point. When I decided to write a book about recovery, I didn’t want to make it singular.

Nothing about recovery had been singular. I needed the first-person plural, because recovery had been about immersion in the lives of others.

I wanted to write a book that was honest about the grit and bliss and tedium of learning to live in this way—in chorus, without the numbing privacy of getting drunk. I wanted to find an articulation of freedom that didn’t need scare quotes or lacquer, that didn’t insist on distinction as the only mark of a story worth telling, that wondered why we took that truth to be self-evident, or why I’d always taken it that way.

If addiction stories run on the fuel of darkness—the hypnotic spiral of an ongoing, deepening crisis—then recovery is often seen as the narrative slack, the dull terrain of wellness, a tedious addendum to the riveting blaze. I wasn’t immune; I’d always been enthralled by stories of wreckage.

But I wanted to know if stories about getting better could ever be as compelling as stories about falling apart. I needed to believe they could.

– The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath” by Leslie Jamison


Some of the books, my favorites, are: Mental, Requiem For A Dream, Here We Are Now, Detour,  Long Shot, Tweak, We All Fall Down: Living With Addiction, An Unquiet Mind, Touched With Fire, Exuberance, Manic, A Brilliant Madness, Another Bullshit Night In Suck City, ‘More, Now, Again: A Memoir of Addiction,’ Trouble Boys, Electroboy, Candy, Jesus’ Son, Scar Tissue, Smack, Hurry Down Sunshine, The Eden Express, Learning How To Die, Leaving Las Vegas, My Booky Wook, Broken, With Or Without You, Drinking: A Love Story, Sober Is My New Drunk, Medication Madness, Mad in America, Anatomy of An Epidemic, Chasing The Scream, Tristimania, Bipolar Happens!, My Fair Junkie, Home Is Burning, Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, The Heroin Diaries, A Really Good Day, Childhood Disrupted, Just Kids, The Perks of Being A Wallflower, No Tourists Allowed, The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath.

My wreckage

My wreckage began when I started drinking on weekends in high school. I was a member of the basketball, baseball and golf teams, so I always had practices, scrimmages, games and matches. And I was able to hide it from my parents, even though I was often driving my dad’s old Volvo to house parties and for valley rides.

Until, one night, two friends of mine and my girlfriend stopped in a cemetery on an old dirt road to relieve ourselves. Mid-urination, a police car stopped behind mine and searched my car and found what was left of a case of ponys. An hour or so later my parents had to pick me up from the police station, and I was charged with underage drinking. I was 17.

The aftermath begins

A couple months later my girlfriend told me she was pregnant, and was planning to have an abortion. She was a cheerleader for the basketball team and at the time we were in the playoffs, on our way to win the state championship. It was a semifinal playoff game, and she took the night off from cheering to have her friend drive her to a clinic. There was no cheering that night from me, her or her friend. They showed up midway through the game and sat a couple rows behind the team bench, and a nod from her friend was my acknowledgement.

The first time I smoked marijuana was the summer I graduated from high school. It was…magical. I could not believe I had been missing out on this high for all these years. One of the first friends I made in college was a deadhead who had a beginning-of-the-weekend party in his dorm room every Friday afternoon. We smoked and smoked, and also drank, and I thought to myself, “this is the life!”

It was far from the life. My grades dipped as a freshman and I had to sink my nose into the books the final week or two before exams to get passing grades. I was dating another high school girlfriend at the time who would come stay with me on campus and who also ended up pregnant. She wanted to keep it, I was adamant she have an abortion, so she did. I drove her to the clinic one day and thought for sure I had avoided something terrible happening in my young life.

But the worst was yet to come.

Smoking bowls and hiding empties: living with addiction

I was “clean” for almost two-and-a-half years after spending 40 days in the hospital recovering from a subdural hematoma. I crashed my car, was life-flighted to safety, and suffered another hematoma while in the hospital. The doctors never put their finger on the cause of my medical malady, but I was convinced it came from […]

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